Merton, Day 3
Reading gives God more glory when we get more out of it, when it is a more deeply vital act not only of our intelligence but of our whole personality, absorbed and refreshed in thought, meditation, prayer, or even in the contemplation of God.
-- Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude
Following the teaching of Thomas Keating, when I practice Centering Prayer I begin with a prayer expressing to God my willingness to consent to God’s presence and action within. When I open a book to read, perhaps it would be a good idea to pray in thanksgiving for the faculty of language, for the world of words, for the wisdom of writers, for the intellectual and emotional gifts (memory, reason, compassion, skill) that make us human, and that could not be developed without language. Yale literary critic Harold Bloom asserts that there is no writer or thinker to rival Shakespeare, with only Dante even in the same league, and that, in some sense, Shakespeare is the creator of our modern minds and culture. While I dearly love the Bard, I have to admit that George Eliot and Jane Austen fall more readily to hand when I peruse my shelves. When I open up King Lear or Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice it might be good for me to express gratitude for the gift of learning, for the corpus of knowledge preserved for us, for the texts that have not been lost, for the gift of great minds, and the vehicle of writing that provides us with the privilege of drinking deeply from the springs of genius.
Merton Day 4
"Our mentioning of the weather — our perfunctory observations on what kind of day it is, are perhaps not idle. Perhaps we have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest, with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, and cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I myself am part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all. It is certainly part of my life of prayer."
— Thomas Merton in When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature edited by Kathleen Deignan
As the terrifying reality of global warming begins to take hold more generally in our public and private discourse, the fact that we are all part of the weather is more and more relevant. It strikes me that this excerpt underscores a profoundly North American aspect of Merton’s spirituality, or at least and aspect more common in cold-weather climes. The visceral, corporeal urgency of an 18-degree day with snow on the ground leads a spiritually thoughtful person down a path of reflection that would be unlikely to occur in the tropics. As Garrison Keillor observes, cold weather is a great leveling factor: yes it’s cold out there, but it’s just as cold for everybody else as it is for you, if you’re cold, go put on a sweater, turn DOWN the thermostat, what, are we heating the whole neighborhood here with the doors wide open all day long? Walking in the bitter, biting cold of a